Between regional semifinals across all VHSL classifications and an intra-city clash for the VISAA championship, 14 local teams enter the high school football playoff fray this weekend.
Here are our picks and previews for every all-804 matchup, and a summary of the area teams seeking regional final berths elsewhere.
The Main Event
VISAA championship: No. 4 Benedictine at No. 3 Trinity Episcopal
Saturday: 1 p.m.
Records: Cadets 8-3, Titans 7-3
About Benedictine: Winners of six straight, the Cadets have found another gear in the second half of the season following a 1-3 start. Linemen TJ Baldwin, Dylan Faniel and Joel Starlings, along with linebacker Gary Seigler, spearhead a hard-nosed defense that sets the tone. Quarterback Tate Plageman has come a long way during the course of the season. He completed 8 of 12 passes for 120 yards and a score while rushing 14 times for 54 yards in the 28-14 semifinal win over previously unbeaten St. Christopher's. Xavier Mears, Leo Boehling and David Ngendakuriyo form a rugged backfield trio that's no fun to tackle. And 6-foot-4, 205-pound receiver Leon Haughton is a matchup problem on the outside. He joins Khamari Veney, Khalil Moore and DJ Edmonds to form a deep, physical group of receivers. The Cadets average 30 points and allow 10.5.
About Trinity: A high-powered offense led by dual-threat quarterback Jack Toscano is the Titans' calling card. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 105 yards and a TD while rushing 17 times for 75 yards and three scores in a 35-14 semifinal victory over St. Stephen's and St. Agnes. Tre Grant carried 16 times for 81 yards and a TD in that game. He'll see most of the work out of the backfield. Receiver Trai Ferguson is a big-play threat. He's joined by AK Key and Brennan Ridley to form an explosive receiving corps. Senior offensive linemen Sam and Chris Singleton are both 6-foot-7 and 300-plus pounds. LJ Jones and Elijah Rainer are four-year starters at linebacker. They lead the defense along with DBs Cam Fleming and Zahir Rainer. The Titans average 30.3 points and allow 18.8.
What's at stake: This matchup fittingly bookends the season for both programs, as Trinity beat Benedictine 27-13 in the sides' opener at Henrico High in late August. Much has changed since that meeting, namely the Cadets' offense and the Titans' defense. The growth of those units to complement elite upside on the other side of the ball has both teams looking more complete. And they both appear to be playing their best football of the season heading into Saturday's final at Aycock Stadium for all the marbles.
Tim Pearrell's pick: Benedictine 21-14
Zach Joachim's pick: Trinity 35-28
OTHER FEATURED GAMES
Class 4, Region B semifinal
No. 5 Patrick Henry at No. 1 Dinwiddie, Friday, 7 p.m.: Quarterback Jordan Allen is the engine of a battle-tested Patriots (9-2) outfit that played one of the tougher schedules around. Ken Wakefield's PH team is captained by Allen, dynamic playmaker and JMU recruit Jayden Mines, linebacker/TE Camden Byrd and tight end Christian Berry. They can be a threat in the passing game, but PH will first look to establish its dominant ground game led by Allen, freshman back Dashawn Green and junior guard Maddox Radcliffe. The Patriots present perhaps the biggest test of the season for the 9-0 Generals and quarterback Brenton Hilton. Dinwiddie hasn't played a close game this season, but it wasn't for lack of competition as it beat good Hopewell (35-20), Matoaca (35-14) and Thomas Dale (35-14) teams soundly. Backs Tylor Veney and Harry Dalton and receiver Chris Drumgoole all are explosive playmakers. Senior linebacker Benjamin Pfister features for a staunch defense that has held opponents to an average of 9.8 points. Tim: Dinwiddie 35-26 Zach: Patrick Henry 27-26
Class 5, Region C semifinals
No. 4 Douglas Freeman at No. 1 Highland Springs, Friday, 7 p.m.: Running back/safety Bradley Perkins, receiver Jahrell Horne and quarterback Owen Fallen are the key guys for a Mavericks (8-2) program that's averaged 28.8 points and allowed 13. The Springers feature pass rusher Rashaud Pernell, a unanimous first-team all-region pick who had five sacks in the 63-0 quarterfinal win over J.R. Tucker. Fellow lineman Miles Greene, DBs Daquan Giles and Braylon Johnson, receivers Quanye Veney and Mike Hodge, quarterback Khristian Martin and back Aziz Foster-Powell are a few of the key pieces on a deep Highland Springs roster. Tim: Highland Springs 27-14 Zach: Highland Springs 44-21
No. 3 Hermitage at No. 2 Midlothian, Friday, 7 p.m.: The Trojans are coming off their first playoff win in school history. Quarterback Cooper Meads, receiver Drew Kleski and and back Ashby Berry are the primary playmakers for Matt Hutchings' Midlo outfit. Kicker Maxx Lawton has a huge leg. Linemen Zach Phillips and Gabe Semidey spearhead the defense, while guard Declan Harrington is a force in the trenches. They'll need to bring what they brought to the table in a 42-35 win over Manchester to secure the second playoff victory in school history, as quarterback Jaylen "Toast" Burton's Hermitage team has won seven in a row. Back Jeremiah Coney is the region's offensive player of the year after rumbling for 1,050 yards and 19 TDs during the regular season. Lineman Drew Lee is a first-team all-region honoree on the offensive and defensive lines, and DB Christian Stubbs is another first-teamer for a Panthers program averaging 31.7 points and allowing 12.7. Tim: Hermitage 28-24 Zach: Hermitage 30-24
Season records: Zach 31-14, Tim 22-14, Lily 6-3
Region 6A semifinals
Both local representatives in the 6A field will play in Chesapeake Friday at 7 p.m. Running back Ramon Brown and quarterback Cody Shelton lead No. 3 Manchester to No. 2 Western Branch. And No. 5 James River and star receiver Chris Seward head to No. 1 Oscar Smith, the reigning state champions.
Region 4B semifinal
Varina quarterback Myles Derricott finished the regular season 69 of 108 for 1,200 yards and 15 TDs plus 31 carries for 180 yards and two TDs. He'll try and spread the ball to a bevvy of playmakers including Carlo Thompson, Anthony Fisher, Kamaree Wells and Tae'mon Brown while leaning on a staunch defense led by lineman De'Andre Crump as the No. 3 Blue Devils (9-1) travel to No. 2 King George (10-0), which features QB Zach Ferguson, back Gabe Aley and big-play receivers Chanz Wiggins and Mekhain White.
Region 3A semifinal
Quarterback Mason Cumbie, back Kesean Henderson and receiver Jamarion Chavis lead an explosive Hopewell (6-3) outfit, the region's No. 5 seed, as the Blue Devils travel to Hampton to take on No. 1 Phoebus (8-1) Saturday at 2 p.m.
Region 3B semifinal
Quarterback CJ Towles and linebackers Dylan Myers and Nik Cotner feature for Alex Fruth's Goochland (6-5) program, the No. 4 seed, as the Bulldogs take on No. 1 Meridian (9-2) Friday at 7 p.m.
Region 2A semifinal
All-Metro running back Demond Claiborne had 298 yards and 5 TDs in King William's quarterfinal victory. The No. 2 Cavaliers (9-1) host No. 6 Poquoson (6-4) in the semis Friday at 7 p.m.